When Conspiracy Theorists Are In Your Family, Around Your Kids, What Do You Do?
By Quentin Janes
Photo © axel.bueckert/Twenty20
May 10, 2021
In October of 1962, the world appeared to be on the brink of annihilation.
Nuclear war between world superpowers seemed imminent. My father remembers those days. He remembers the duck and cover drills. He remembers “make your own bomb shelter” schematics popping up in his comics. He remembers when the world really did appear to be ending.
So I understand that he likes to be careful. “They” are all over the place — trust me he "knows all about them."
And “they” appears to be a combination of Jeff Bezos telling Bill Gates to collect information on everyone and a NSA super plot to scan every word of every email ever published for dissenters.
Craig Stephens is trying to help his daughter sift through a deluge of conspiracy theories, but it isn't easy. Read that here.
"They" have planes. "They" have an army of hackers and they know who you are and what you are doing.
This is the hard part, and why so many of my explanations fall flat: I don't think he's all that far off base — he's just missing the final piece of the puzzle.
“Dad, they aren't hunting you, they just want to sell you stuff."
Sometimes it can be hard to listen to.
Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater
He once drowned a $2,000 Macbook in the bathtub because Adobe was automatically updating and he thought it was a hacker.
The look on his face was priceless when I told him that in many cases you can dry out a laptop and that it will still function; suggesting the garbage man was now in charge of his retirement savings.
I put all of this aside, because we love Grandpa. No matter how unusual someone's perception of the world is, I don't think it should take away from your relationship with that person. When we are laughing and drinking and playing bridge, that is who my father is to me. Not the laptop murderer.
He can easily go too far
Harmless postulation is one thing, but when the ideas turn racist, sexist or homophobic, I believe it becomes morally objectionable to do nothing. My daughter doesn't need to hear that kind garbage from him, or anyone for that matter. I will usually deal with these situations harshly, with direct and clear refutation, no give.
Luckily such occurrences are rare. Most of our time together is priceless. The joy of seeing my father and my daughter together brings me a contentment and happiness that seems to have been drawn out from the past; yet pushes deep into the future. I made peace with the fact that I am never going to win “that” argument. My parents are never going to put their ideas away and say: “Wow, you know what? You were right!”
All I can do is give them the resources they need to reach a proper conclusion and hope they find it. If one of us gets so worked up that we become offensive, no one wins, especially not if any children are within earshot.
"No matter how unusual someone's perception of the world is, I don't think it should take away from your relationship with that person."
I find that getting to the root of the issue is important. When we speak, I let them get it out of their system. I don't have to say much, I just listen.
It serves many purposes. First it builds trust. It also keeps those lines of communication open, and it gives me the opportunity to get to the foundation of their ideas. Sometimes they even trip over their own words and start to question themselves. Often, once they are done, they become embarrassed and won't want to talk on the subject anymore for some time.
When I come across demonstrably false information, I ask nothing more than that they verify it for themselves. Not to me, not right now, just one day — to themselves. Inevitably, there will be some things that children could probably go without hearing. And kids hear everything. My daughter has told me as much. When us adults talk about strange and impossible things in heated voices, they hear things.
The work never stops
However consider this: The society that our children are growing up into is an absolute beehive of information. Everywhere they go and everything they do, our children will be completely overloaded by information. The idea of trying to hide my daughter from misinformation is absurd because it's impossible.
My daughter has to learn how to distinguish good ideas from bad ones. It doesn't matter if those ideas come from Grandma and Grandpa, the neighbours who are building an apocalypse bunker; or Great Uncle climate change denier. She has to be able to make these determinations for her self.
She has demonstrated the ability to hold off judgment on new ideas until more evidence comes to light. I can ask nothing more. The process of creating a critically thinking child is never ending. It does not stop and start depending on who is in the room.
Conspiracy theories have found great strength in this pandemic. It doesn't help that many of us are isolated and terrified, watching people die of suffocation every night on the evening news.
This dad will do anything to keep his daughter from being glued to her phone. Read that story here.
So many people will emerge from the pandemic withdrawn and confused, addicted or in mental distress. It will be up to stable, sane, moral people to pull them out of it.
I cannot wait to listen to my parents go on and on about “how this all happened” because it will mean we are together again. In the end, every one of us holds some absurd notion to be true. Myself, I believe that one day Ray Kurzweil will upload his consciousness into a robot body and live forever. (Try me!)
Strange ideas do not change the fact that my neighbours would happily shelter me from the apocalypse in their bunker. Or that my parents would die for their grandchild. What we share together, is worth so much more than the trivialities we quarrel over.
To me, Dad will always be Dad first. I can deal with the rest as it comes.
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